In Her Words

This time we are drawing from the work of Dorothy Canfield Fisher, 1879-1978, who wrote extensively about Dr. Montessori’s work. In the following excerpt from her 1912 book, A Montessori Mother, she captures her early introduction to Dr. Montessori’s work.

In describing one of her visits to an early Casa, Fisher has a priceless account of a small child and a lunch napkin:

“The napkins were unfolded, the older children tucked them under their chins and began to eat their soup. The younger ones imitated them more or less handily, though with some the process meant quite a struggle with the napkin. One little boy, only one in all that company, could not manage his. After wrestling with it, he brought it to the teacher, who had dropped down on a chair near mine. So sure was I of what her action inevitably would be, that I fairly felt my own hands automatically follow hers in the familiar motions of tucking a napkin under a child’s round chin.

“I cannot devise any way to set down on paper with sufficient emphasis the fact that she did not tuck that napkin in. She held it up in her hands, showed the child how to take hold of a larger part of the corner than he had been grasping, and illustrating on herself, gave him an object-lesson. Then she gave it back to him. He had caught the idea evidently, but his undisciplined little fingers, out of sight there, under his chin, would not follow the direction of his brain, though that was evidently, from the grave intentness of his baby face, working at top speed. With a sigh, that irresistible sigh of the little child, he took out the crumpled bit of linen and looked at it sadly. I clasped my hands together tightly to keep them from flying at him and accomplishing the operation in a twinkling. Why, the poor child’s soup was getting cold!

“Again, I wish to reiterate the statement that the teacher did not tuck that napkin in. She took it once more and went through very slowly all the necessary movements. The child’s big, black eyes fastened on her in a passion of attention, and I noticed that his little empty hands followed automatically the slow, distinctly separated, analyzed movements of the teacher’s hands. When she gave the napkin back to him, he seized it with an air of resolution which would have done honor to Napoleon, grasping it firmly and holding his wandering wits together with the aid of a determined frown. He pulled his collar away from his neck with one hand and, still frowning determinedly, thrust a large segment of the napkin down with the other, spreading out the remainder on his chest, with a long sigh of utter satisfaction, which went to my heart. As he trotted back to his place, I noticed that the incident had been observed by several of the children near us, on whose smiling faces, as they looked at their triumphant little comrade, I could see the reflection of my own gratified sympathy. One of them reached out and patted the napkin as its proud wearer passed.”

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